Mark O’Connor’s Vistas


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This piece is based on three very distinct views (vistas) that can be seen from the home of the composer, Mark O’Connor. “One to the east where the desert begins to reveal itself; one to the north where I enjoy the distant mountains; and then a view off to the west where beautiful Pacific Ocean sparkles in the distance.” He wrote a piece for his string trio that demonstrated the combination of such differences, combining them into a “panorama” view of the scene.

Instead of giving a separate melody to each string instrument, O’Connor creates one main melody and some variations that each of the instruments plays at some point. The violin introduces the main melody (and later the variations and new melodies), with the cello adding some counterpoint until cello and the bass get the melody at various points. Throughout the piece, the instruments never share the melody in unison, but compliment each other, play in a canon, and harmonize or play chords. At times, the differences sound like light counterpoint, but at others, the melodies are strongly contrapuntal. 

The piece is generally tonal, with few strong dissonances, and weak dissonances that resolve immediately. This represents a normal, natural environment without humans, in which any changes are balanced and taken care of easily. Each of the ‘vistas’ – the ocean, the desert, and the mountain – balance their ecosystems easily without humans, and live harmoniously in nature, like the chords in this piece. The piece also begins and ends slowly and softly in a single instrument, as ecosystems generally do on Earth.

A variety of string techniques are used to get across the idea of the melody, including arco, pizzicato, tremolos, and aggressive plucking in the bass. The piece also covers a wide range in terms of pitch, from the high notes of the violin, down to the lowest note of the bass; the viola range is covered by higher notes in the cello and a few lower ones in the violin. The dynamics also have a wide range, from a single instrument (violin) playing soft pizzicato, to the three playing full force arco. The climax of the piece occurs when the main melody is played by all instruments at the same time, but at different speeds. This is one of the most musically and dynamically intense moments of the piece.



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